Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Ceisteanna (944)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

944. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of successful family video visits per prison that have taken place for prisoners and their families since the measure was introduced as an alternative to prison visits during the Covid-19 pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15537/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic a range of measures including restrictions on access to prisons have required to protect our prison population, in line with public health advice.

While physical family visits to prisons were suspended on 27 March 2020, I understand that the Prison Service introduced a number of new initiatives to allow families to continue to communicate and support those in custody including:

- provision of additional phone calls for prisoners;

- introduction of Electronic Funds Transfer and An Post Bill Pay service to allow families to continue to lodge money to prisoner accounts; and

- introduction of virtual visits, through the installation of video phone facilities in all prisons to allow for video-calls with families.

I am informed that feedback from prisoners and families that have used the new video visits system successfully has been very positive.

Given that this was a new service, and particularly given that it was introduced as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions, I understand there were a number of challenges and technical issues at the outset with some connections. A dedicated helpline for the families of prisoners who were experiencing difficulty in connecting to a scheduled video call was established and is still in operation.

I am informed by the Irish Prison Service in the last six weeks, an average of 1,647 video calls per week have been scheduled, with an 87% success rate. Reasons for unsuccessful calls include a breakdown in the line, end user issues and broadband connections.

I am informed that while video visits began on 11 April 2020, statistics are available only from 26 May 2020. Details of the number of family visits via video link between 26 May and 7 July 2020, as furnished to me by the Prison Service, are set out in the following table.

Location

Number of Scheduled Calls

Number of Successful Calls

Number of Unsuccessful Calls

Arbour Hill

312

289

23

Castlerea

437

383

54

Cloverhill

665

581

84

Cork

663

597

66

Dochas

482

439

43

Limerick

692

575

117

Loughan House

194

163

31

Midlands

2375

2165

210

Mountjoy

952

815

137

Portlaoise

867

787

80

Shelton Abbey

262

236

26

Wheatfield

1978

1567

411

Total

9879

8597

1282

Finally, I note that the Irish Prison Service has outlined plans for a phased recommencement of physical family visits to prisons commencing on Monday 20 July 2020. Visits will recommence on a phased basis and movement through the phases will be subject to ongoing risk assessment and will take account latest public health advice, the range of Government restrictions in place and other factors including the prevailing transmission rate in the community.

In addition, given the success of the video visits system, I understand that the Prison Service intends to continue to offer video visits for families and friends and hopes to continue to enhance this new service in the future.